The Problem of Gospel Static
Imagine a phone call with a lot of static (“noise”) on the line—so much that you are only understanding part of what you hear. That’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ can sound like to people whose worldviews are strongly influenced by non-Biblical belief systems.
We call this problem “worldview noise.” And if we do not understand the worldview noise in our communication of the gospel and do not find a way to penetrate it with clarity, our evangelistic efforts will likely produce spurious fruit.
There are two reasons why unbelievers do not understand the gospel. The first is something that all unbelievers everywhere have in common, to the same 100% degree—spiritual blindness. And only the Holy Spirit can lift this veil and open an unbeliever’s understanding of the gospel. But the second reason for not understanding varies greatly from unbeliever to unbeliever. It’s worldview noise. Depending on the types of spiritual influences in a person’s earlier life, his or her worldview noise may be very dense or not dense at all or somewhere in-between.
Here’s what happens:
1. I know what I want to share with my non-Christian friend. I want to communicate the meaning, for example, of John 3:16. God loves him. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die to pay for my friend’s sins. If my friend will make a genuine faith response from the heart to trust Jesus as Savior, he will not spend eternity separated from God in Hell, but will receive the gift of everlasting life.
2. I choose to “encode” this message of salvation in words which I will speak to my friend. Perhaps I supplement this verbal encoding by also using some complementary visual images.
3. I “transmit” this wonderful news to my friend in a personal conversation, reading or quoting John 3:16 and briefly elaborating on each phrase.
4. If my friend grew up in a part of the world where he has heard a lot about God, the Bible, and Jesus—maybe even attended Sunday School occasionally as a child—my friend’s worldview noise may not be dense. But, if my friend grew up in a totally non-“Christian” environment, there may be some very heavy static in the communication process.
5. As I am reading and explaining John 3:16 and its meanings, my friend is engaged in the process of “decoding” (trying to understand) what I’m saying. And decoding is affected by the worldview noise in the process—the result of differences between his worldview and the gospel truths of the Bible.
6. If this friend is the person who grew up going to church as a kid in America at a time when people freely (even publicly) talked about God, the Bible, and Jesus, what I’m sharing may make clear sense to him because the worldview noise is not a serious barrier to his understanding. But, if my friend grew up in a religious culture that does not include the Bible and Jesus and other major Biblical teachings (thus, dense worldview noise), his decoding may be quite different from my encoding. For example, my words may just be “gibberish” to him—unintelligible and meaningless. And not wanting to offend me, he may smile and pretend he understands. Or, and even more problematic, he may hear the words and attach his own religious understandings to them. If he grew up in a Hindu culture, he may think John 3:16 is referring to one of the many gods he and his family have worshiped for as long as he can remember. If he grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness home and attended a Kingdom Hall, he may understand God’s Son to be Michael the Archangel.
For cross-cultural missionaries, worldview noise has always been a common and major impediment to evangelism. But many Christ-followers in the United States grew up in a quasi-“Christian” culture where most of our friends, neighbors, relatives, and casual-meeting acquaintances knew enough about Christianity to understand the gospel without extensive gospel presentations. But to quote Bob Dylan’s 1964 song – “The times, they are a changin’.”
The Good Soil Evangelism and Discipleship Seminar was created to train Christ-followers to understand and penetrate worldview noise. By presenting both the historical context of the gospel, as well as the essential content of the gospel, believers are communicating the Bible’s redemptive story from Genesis through Revelation. The Story of Hope is our basic evangelism (or discipleship) resource for sharing (encoding) this story.
Previous articles in this series:
- Three Greek Verbs Define Good Soil
- Assessing Unbeliever’s Gospel Understanding
- Assessing Gospel Receptivity
- Initial Contact or Relational Evangelism—or Both?
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